April 02-- CHICAGO-Home should be a refuge. But for people reporting to a hospital during the coronavirus crisis, home is just one more place to dread.
Doctors, nurses and others working at Illinois hospitals where COVID-19 patients are being treated fear returning to their families, who might be more at risk because of invisible dangers they unwittingly bring home.
Each has a routine. It usually looks like this: Disrobe. Leave scrubs in the garage. Bleach shoes. Run to the shower. No hugs from the children, no welcome from a spouse. Shower, scrub.
For Terence Yee, an intensive care unit nurse at the University of Illinois at Chicago, there is no option but to come home. He and his wife, Sweet Vivares Yee, are both nurses; they have three teenagers to take care of.
Both enter through the garage. They take off all of the scrubs from work. They put them directly into the washing machine. Shoes stay in a nearby plastic container. Walking into the house, they go directly to the shower.
Only after a hot shower does he return to begin the laundry.
This, he hopes, will protect their daughters.
"We have to change the way we come home," he said. "You don't want to take it home."
Yee said they take vitamins to try to remain as healthy and resilient as possible; other health care workers who shared their processes mentioned taking household temperatures at night or washing a jacket with soap and water.
One doctor sent an example of a 10-step list she has sent to colleagues, which begins with "shower if possible and change out of work clothes" and includes cleaning steering wheels, wiping down keys, pens and glasses, and keeping one's phone in a clear, zip-close bag. The list ends with the note: "You are clean. Relax. Enjoy your evening."
Fear of infecting family members is one more burden for hospital workers-from food service to housekeeping to physicians-already enduring the stress of a lack of protective gear and treating patients during a pandemic, said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare for Illinois and Indiana.
"Workers are bearing the brunt of this crisis," Kelley said. "They are doing this often at great personal cost to themselves and to their families."
Some are weighing whether to live apart from their children; many said they were watching the exploding cases in New York City, and hearing from colleagues and friends there. Some knew people staying in hotels to separate from their families. Yee said one colleague treating COVID-19 patients had not been home in days, trying to protect his pregnant wife.
Yee said hospital workers treating COVID-19 patients should be provided hotel rooms, so they can remain away from their family if they choose. The city recently announced it will designate hotel space for first responders, like paramedics, police and firefighters, who are worried about bringing the virus home.
"The reality is that they are coming in contact with the virus every day and working long, hard hours," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said when announcing the hotel space. "And some of them may prefer to stay downtown rather than going home to their spouse, kids or friends."
The mayor's office told the Tribune it is actively exploring hotel spaces to provide relief to health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
"We expect to have options available very soon," said Eugenia Orr, deputy press secretary for the mayor.
Melissa Bertoletti, an emergency room nurse at Amita Health's St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, has not seen her parents, she said, "in, I don't know, oh my, God, I can't even remember."
About a month ago, she said, her mom asked her for help with taking her dog to the vet.
"I had to tell her no," she said. "If I went over there and something happened to them, I would feel like I caused that."
For Bertoletti, the stress of working in a hospital is not new. But the coronavirus challenges she and her colleagues face-rationing protective equipment, weighing how many ventilators they will need, worrying about fellow nurses' risk of being exposed-are new. Still, her 26 years of nursing experience kicks in to cope.
"But what's scary is bringing it home to my family," she said. "I don't want my family coming into contact with this at all. So it's stressful to come home."
Planning extends beyond sanitizing phones or shunning family. It also reaches the to-do lists for family tasks while away from the hospital.
Recently, Chicago pediatrician Deanna Behrens and her husband made sure their wills are up to date.
Daniel Ortiz, a nurse assigned to the COVID-19 unit at UIC last month, has not seen his parents in weeks. He barely sees his wife. He told her, "Working on this unit, I'm going to get sick."
His preparation to come home begins at the hospital, where he changes into new scrubs before heading out. Some hospitals have enough scrubs for nurses to change into new pairs when they arrive and when they leave, so they do not need to wear potentially contaminated scrubs home.
At work, his book bag stays in his locker. He doesn't bring his lunch bag home.
When he gets home, he strips and heads for the shower.
"I walk in almost bare," he said. "I tell my wife to get away."
They sleep apart. He takes the couch, giving her the bedroom.
Last week, he woke up with a headache. He thought it was stress. But the next day, he still felt sick. He was sweating. His body felt like he had just worked out.
He was tested for the coronavirus and is awaiting the results.
(c)2020 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.